SOPARC Online App User Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Purpose, Rationale, and Procedures
  2. Validity and Reliability
  3. Park Mapping Guide
  4. Observation Preparation
  5. SOPARC Online App
  6. Recording Procedures for Walking Paths
  7. Timing of Observations
  8. Keywords and Coding Conventions
  9. Data Graphing and Exporting
  10. Bibliography and References
  11. Appendix



SOPARC was designed to obtain direct information on community park use, including relevant concurrent characteristics of parks and their users. It provides an assessment of park users' physical activity levels, gender, activity modes/types, and estimated age and race/ethnicity groupings. Additionally, it provides information on individual park activity areas, such as their levels of accessibility, usability, supervision, and organization (McKenzie et al., 2006).


Physical activity and recreation are positively associated with good health. Investigations of activity participants in "open" environments (e.g., recreation and leisure settings) have been hampered by the lack of objective tools for quantifying physical activity and user characteristics. Measurement in these settings is complicated because the number of participants and their activity modes and intensity levels change frequently. SOPARC methodology decomposes park use through momentary assessment, counting the number and type of park users and cataloging their activities at a single point in time. With multiple assessments, the aggregated observations provide an estimate of weekly park use.

Summary Of Procedures

SOPARC is based on momentary time sampling techniques in which systematic and periodic scans of individuals and contextual factors within pre-determined Target Areas in parks are made. Relevant Target Areas within a park are first identified and mapped. Assessors then visit the Target Areas at designated time periods, based upon the intent of the study. For greatest validity, SOPARC observations should be made throughout the day, and include specified times in the morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. (A sample observation schedule is included at the end of this document to help identify when you might conduct the park observations.)

During a scan the activity of each individual is mechanically or electronically coded as Sedentary (i.e., lying down, sitting, or standing), Walking, or Vigorous. Separate scans are made for females and males, and for estimating the age and race/ethnicity groupings of participants. Simultaneous entries are also made for time of day, area accessibility, area usability, presence of supervision and equipment, and presence and classification of organized activities. Summary counts describe the number of participants by gender, activity modes and levels, and estimated age and race/ethnicity groupings. The instrument permits physical activity level comparisons to be made among different environments or within the same setting over different time periods. Energy expenditure estimates (i.e., Kcal/kg/min and METs) for a Target Area of a park can be calculated based on previously validated constants for each level of activity.



Validity of the activity codes used by SOPARC has been established through heart rate monitoring (McKenzie et al., 1991; Rowe, Schuldheism, & van der Mars, 1997) and accelerometry (e.g., Ridgers et al., 2010). These provide support for the initial construct validity of SOPARC. Providing measures of persistent behaviors (i.e., physical activity) are taken frequently and at random, momentary time sampling techniques have been shown to yield valid behavioral samples. Because only brief episodes are recorded, response and recording occur simultaneously with observations occurring at an approximate rate of one person per second. Observing 4 days/week, 4 times/day has been shown to provide a robust estimate of park user characteristics and their physical activity engagement (Cohen et al., 2011).


Initial reliability data were collected using a similar instrument (SOPLAY) in middle schools where pairs of assessors simultaneously and independently observed 186 Target Areas (McKenzie et al., 2000). Interobserver agreements for contextual variables were 95%, 97%, 93%, 96%, and 88%, for area accessibility, usability, presence of supervision, presence of organized activity, and provision of equipment, respectively. To examine the reliability of activity counts made by different assessors, intraclass correlations were computed. Correlations were high for sedentary girls (.98) and walking girls (.95), although lower for counts of vigorous girls (.76). For boys, correlations were high for sedentary (.98), walking (.98), and vigorous (.97) behavior. It was concluded that all interobserver agreements and intraclass correlations met acceptable criteria (IOA=80%, R=.75).

Numerous studies in community parks have also shown high reliabilities among trained observers. In a study in 85 Target Areas in parks (McKenzie et al., 2006), interobserver agreement scores (IOA) for contextual variables were 95% for area accessibility, 91% for usability, 95% for presence of supervision, 95% for presence of organized activity, and 96% for provision of equipment. Intraclass correlations for the number of park users were high (R=.99 for females; R=.97 for males). IOAs for age grouping (89% for females; 85% for males), race/ethnic grouping (80% for females; 82% for males), and activity levels (80% for females; 88% for males) also met acceptable criteria for reliable assessment. Additionally, a study in which 76,632 individuals were observed (547/park/day) in 5 states showed reliabilities ranging from 0.80 to 0.99 (Cohen et al., 2011).

Frequency of Observation Days and Times per Day

While SOPARC provides only a snapshot of an hourly count and duplicates counts of park users who stay more than one hour, we found that as few as 12-16 hours appears to be a sufficiently robust schedule for estimating 96 hours of park use and physical activity over a week's time. Because use varies from weekend to weekday, we recommend a minimum of one weekend day and 2 weekdays, although 2 weekend days and 2 weekdays will be more valid. In addition, observations should be conducted 3 to 4 times throughout the day, with 4 times more valid than 3. The times of day can be varied, so that all the different times can be included during 12-16 hours of observation.



Direct observations are made in designated Target Areas (see Section 8 for terms and definitions) that represent all standard locations likely to provide opportunities for park users to be physically active. These areas will be predetermined and identified for observations prior to baseline assessments. A map is created to identify areas and a standard observation order for each park. It is important to establish the Target Area map prior to initiating the observations.

During occasions of high user density, Target Areas can be subdivided into smaller Subtarget Areas (scan spaces) so that more accurate measures can be obtained (e.g., separate groups of people using opposite ends of a soccer field provide observation challenges without separating the areas). Observers use standard court or field markings or other environmental features to determine appropriate Subtarget Areas within each Target Area. Data from these smaller spaces are summed to provide an overall measure for each Target Area.

NOTE: A decision to subdivide a Target Area depends upon (1) the number of park users in the area, and (2) the type of user activity. Fast moving activities with people clustered together and moving in diverse directions (e.g., during soccer) require smaller scan spaces.

The goal of mapping is to divide parks into smaller, observable sections (i.e., Target Areas) so that accurate park user counts can be made using the SOPARC Online App. A well-defined Target Area is one that can be scanned from left to right without encountering visual obstructions. They should be a size that makes it possible county all individuals within the area accurately. Observing parks without clearly mapped Target Areas can result in inconsistent counting and lower quality data.


  1. Find out if the park or the parks and recreation department has an existing map.
  2. Print a satellite image of the park from an online mapping site (e.g., Google Earth, Google Maps).
    • The print out should show all areas of the park to be included in the observations.
    • Keep in mind that the image may be out of date or missing some features. Additionally, tree coverings may obscure some important features of interest. Nonetheless, this satellite image should provide an outline and general layout of the park and be an good place to start.
  3. Get a feel for the layout of the park and how it is used.
    • Take a walk around the park and note the general layout and major features.
    • Look around to see if there are obvious sections or dividers that can help to define Target Areas.
    • Note which parts of the park are the most and least used.
    • Make note of any unique park features that may need to be considered for data collection.

Defining Target Areas

  1. A target area is a space in which activities may occur. A target area should be large enough to accommodate activity, but small enough to accurately count everyone who may be using the area.
  2. Areas of the park that generally are open to the public for use should be observed. Areas not intended for public use or that would be inappropriate for observation (e.g., storage space, staff offices, restrooms) should not be included in SOPARC observations.
  3. There is no established minimum or maximum number of Target Areas, nor is there a defined size limit for a Target Area. Parks with large numbers of Target Areas may require more than one observer working simultaneously.
  4. Data collectors need to be able to move efficiently from area to area during an observation rotation.
  5. Data collectors should be able to observe the entire Target Area from one spot on the ground, and be able to scan from left to right without visual obstruction.
  6. If possible, each Target Area should be made up of one primary feature (e.g., Lawn, Sidewalk, Basketball Court, Play area, Gym, Classroom). This permits the aggregation of data for similar Target Areas within the same park or across parks. However, this may not always be possible, and some areas may have mixed characteristics (e.g., Lawn and Sidewalk).
    • When you enter Target Areas with mixed characteristics into the SOPARC online app, name it according to its primary characteristic.
  7. Existing boundaries (e.g., chalk lines on fields, tree lines, fences) can help determine a Target Area.
    • Keep in mind that Target Areas need to remain the same throughout the observation periods and that chalk lines may be temporary and may change from one sport or season to the next.
  8. Activity types can also be used to help define Target Areas. For example, a tree-shaded section of a large green space could be divided into a separate Target Area since one might expect to observe people having picnics or being involved in some other sedentary activity, rather than running around or playing a sport as in the open space.

Ordering Target Areas

  1. Order Target Areas such that the data collector can move clockwise through the park efficiently.
  2. It may be possible to observe multiple Target Areas from a single point - order them accordingly.
  3. By convention, begin observation rotations in the gymnasium, auditorium, community center, or comparable indoor space if there is one.
    • If there is no gymnasium, begin observations at the most prominent indoor space (or outdoor if there are no indoor areas).
    • If there are no indoor facilities intended for public use, begin with the most prominent outdoor area (e.g., basketball court, baseball or soccer field, picnic area).
  4. Avoid having data collectors go into dangerous park areas. If these areas are to be observed, do this from a safe distance.

Drawing the Map

These directions assume you have a map printed from a mapping website. If none is available, draw areas of the park by hand, following the same general process outlined below.

  1. If a park does not have indoor facilities, begin with the most prominent outdoor park feature (e.g., basketball court, soccer field, picnic area).
  2. Proceed from the first outdoor Target Area in a clockwise fashion and continue to add Target Areas until all of the park area to be observed has been included in a Target Area.
  3. If the park does have indoor facilities, begin with the main park building. Draw in any targeted indoor areas, as only the exterior of the building will be shown on a satellite image. Indicate all indoor spaces (e.g., classrooms, hallways, lobbies) on the map. As much as possible, they should be ordered in such a way that the data collector can move efficiently through the Target Areas without having to retrace his/her steps.
    • When ordering the indoor Target Areas keep in mind the entrances and exits that can be used to reach other Target Areas.
    • If a room has more than one entrance, check to see which is most commonly used and accessible.
  4. Include non-activity areas on the map to help the data collector locate Target Areas. Number the Target Areas, beginning with the gymnasium (or other prominent indoor space if there is no gymnasium).
  5. When all indoor spaces have been added to the map and numbered exit the building through the main entrance and begin to draw in the outdoor Target Areas. Continue to add Target Areas until all park areas are represented on the map.
  6. See notes below on how to create Target Areas from common outdoor spaces.
  7. Landscaped areas are generally not observed as individual Target Areas (except for gardens with paths or that are designed for use).
    • Landscaping may be included in other Target Areas. For example, a green space with landscaped borders might be one Target Area.
  8. If there is a walking path or trail it should be marked on the map as a single Target Area, not divided and included as a part of other Target Areas.
    • Refer to the SOPARC manual for instructions on how to observe walking paths and trails.
  9. Choose a single point from which the walking path will be observed during every observation. It should be unobstructed, shaded if possible, and in a spot from which you will likely see all individuals using the walking path.

Below are notes on common, individual park areas:

Lawns and Other Undefined Green Spaces

People can use green space for diverse purposes (from sleeping to running) and in varying numbers (one to hundreds of people). Since these areas are of mixed use it can be difficult to obtain an accurate count if they are too large. It is generally best to divide them into smaller, more manageable Target Areas, even though they may be vacant frequently.

  1. Use natural boundaries to delineate these Target Areas as much as possible.
  2. In the absence of obvious boundaries (e.g., fence), use trees, bushes, light posts, tables, and other immovable objects to help create boundaries.
    • In addition to defining Target Area boundaries, these objects can help a data collector determine where he/she is on the map, but can also clutter the map unnecessarily. Be judicious in what is included on the map.
  3. If the area is hilly, it may be necessary to further divide it so that the space can be observed without obstruction.
  4. Use shade to help define Target Areas.
    • If one section of a large green space often is shaded and another is not, try to keep them separate as the amount of shade available often affects usage.


Sidewalks generally are used for traveling from point A to B. Keeping these areas separate from a typically sedentary area such as a lawn or picnic area will help to more accurately count how many individuals are involved in the primary activity and at what activity level. You may find sidewalks that encircle a play area, basketball court, or other area designed for a specific activity. These sidewalks can be their own Target Area or may be included with the sport or activity specific area. Some things to consider in making this decision is whether a Target Area including the sidewalk would be too large to accurately observe, and whether the sidewalk might be an expected spectator area (remember that spectators only exist during organized activities, so this most often would not apply to play areas).

  1. Decide if there is a route that often is used as a walking or jogging path. If so, consider doing a walking path scan for this Target Area.
    • If you choose to do a walking path observation using sidewalks as the walking path, do not include these sidewalks as additional Target Areas.
  2. As sidewalks are normally well-defined, simply divide them into manageable sections so that they can be observed accurately.
  3. When deciding how much of a sidewalk to include in a Target Area, keep in mind that people often will be moving in two different directions.

Play Areas

These areas are usually well-defined, so unless they are unusually large or have structures that obstruct vision keep them as a single area. It can be helpful to identify markers (e.g., lampposts, benches) so that data collectors can create Subtarget Areas on the fly if needed.

Sport Related Courts and Spaces

Mapping a sport related court or space depends largely on the size and kind of court. Unless separated visually, multiple tennis courts potentially can be grouped together as one Target Area as not many individuals play at one time. Unless they are rarely used, neighboring basketball or volleyball courts usually should not be combined, as they may involve many more people and vigorous activity levels than can be easily counted.

Sport and Multi-use Fields

As the name suggests, multi-use fields might be used for soccer, baseball, football, and other activities. Depending on the season, a multi-use field might be lined for a different sport or activity, and these chalk lines can be used to help determine Target Areas. Check with park staff to see if the lines are likely to remain in place throughout the planned observation period.

  1. Individual baseball fields often can be left intact as there are usually only a few individuals moving at any one time during a game.
    • Bleachers can be included as part of the baseball field Target Area or observed separately. If bleachers are included, individuals in the bleachers watching an organized game would be counted as spectators.
  2. If a park has numerous sport facilities neighboring one another that might all be in use simultaneously during tournaments or other larger organized activities, each field or court should be an individual Target Area, and the map should indicate where Subtarget Areas are likely to be made.
  3. Soccer or football fields may be divided in halves to make them easier to count, or they can be left whole but with instructions and markers for division into Subtarget Areas as needed.
  4. It is not uncommon to see soccer played on baseball fields and vice versa. So keep in mind the season during which you will be observing as this may affect how the area should be defined.
  5. Areas surrounding fields may contain benches or grass that is often used by spectators. Before beginning to observe the park, determine which part of a Target Area is considered the spectator area (remembering that by definition spectators only exist during an organized activity).

Finalizing the map

When the park map has been drawn, you may choose to create a digital copy using common software that allows you to use shapes to create or add to images, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Other, more sophisticated mapping software is also available if desired. A computer generated map is not necessary, but may be helpful as it will likely be clearer and easier to read. The images below show three different methods of creating a park map starting with a satellite image of a park.

Satellite image of a park printed from online mapping tool

SOPARC map created using Microsoft PowerPoint

Satellite image of a park printed from online mapping tool

SOPARC map using shapes overlaid on a satellite image

Satellite image of a park printed from online mapping tool

Hand-drawn SOPARC map


Prior to leaving for the park, be sure to complete the SOPARC online app registration and have a fully charged smartphone or other device capable of accessing the online SOPARC app. If you are inputting new Target Areas, and have not already done so, you will need to arrive with sufficient time to enter them into the app before the observation is scheduled to begin. If you are using paper forms, be sure to have sufficient forms for the full scan and a working writing utensil. Keep in mind that you may need to adjust the paper form to accommodate a larger number of Target Areas. Also, be sure to print out a copy of the park Target Area map.

Arrive at the park site at least 20 minutes prior to the official start of coding. Review the sequence for observing Target Areas. Visit each Target Area in order and plan how to divide it into Subtarget Areas if necessary. Mentally rehearse by scanning each area a few times.

SOPARC Codes and Recording

Target Area
Refers to the discrete areas created during the mapping process, and in which individual observations are conducted (see Section 3). We recommend sequencing the Target Areas to be observed in order of close proximity so observers can move quickly from one area to the next. The Target Areas are in a drop-down menu in the online app. When selecting the areas to be observed, select them in the order in which you will be observing them.

Target Area Conditions
Check "Yes" or "No" to describe specific conditions for each scan area.

Accessible = Code "YES" if area is accessible to the public (e.g., area is not locked or rented to a private party). Code "NO" when the area is not accessible to the public. Also code the area as NOT accessible if people have inappropriately entered the space (e.g., kids crawling through a hole in the fence when gate is locked).

Usable = Code "YES" if area is usable for physical activity (e.g., is not excessively wet or roped off for repair). For example, code "YES" when the space is usable, even though it may be locked. Code "NO" when there is insufficient lighting to use the space (e.g., no outdoor lights permitting play after sunset).

Equipped = Code "YES" if equipment (e.g., balls, jump ropes) provided by the park is present during the scan. Code "NO" if the only equipment available is permanent (e.g., basketball hoops and climbing apparatus) or owned by park users themselves (e.g., frisbee, ball, or bicycle brought by a family).

Supervised = Code "YES" if area is supervised by designated park or adjunct personnel (e.g., park rangers, playground supervisors, volunteers, sport officials, teachers). The supervisor must be in or adjacent to that specific area (e.g., available to direct park users and respond to emergencies), but does not have to be instructing, officiating, or organizing activities.

Activity Organized = Code "YES" if an organized physical activity is occurring in the scan area (e.g., a scheduled sporting event or exercise class is being led by park staff or adjunct personnel).

Dark = Code "YES" to indicate the area has insufficient lighting to permit active play. Observers should not enter a Target Area unless there is sufficient lighting.

Empty = Code "YES" when there are no individuals present during the scan. Also, code "YES" when the area is dark.

Enter relevant additional information about the condition, people, or activities within the Target Area.

Write in the most prominent physical activity that females and males are doing in the area. During scans of the Target Area, all people should be accounted for as either participating in the primary activity or as a spectator.

Some physical activity modes are:

    Fitness Related Codes:
    Aerobics (dance/step aerobics)
    Fitness stations
    Strengthening exercises (pull ups)

    Sport Related Codes:
    Basketball (indoors)
    Basketball (outdoors)
    Martial arts

    Active Game Related Codes:
    Jumping (rope, hop scotch)
    Manipulatives/racquet activities
    Playground activities
    Tag/chasing games

    Sedentary Recreation Codes:
    Lying down
    Picnic (food involved)

Age Group

Determine age according to the following criteria:

Child = Pre-pubescent children. As a general rule, code children from infancy to 12 years of age as children.

Teen = As a general rule, code youths from 13 to 20 years of age as teens.

Adult = As a general rule, code people from 21 to 59 years of age as adults.

Senior = As a general rule, code people 60 years of age and older as seniors.

Code whether the primary race/ethnicity for each individual is Latino (L), Black (B), White (W), or Asian/Other (O).

Activity Level
Scanning left to right, determine the activity level based on the following criteria:

Sedentary (S) = Individual is lying down, sitting, or standing in place.

Walking (W) = Individual is walking at a casual pace.

Vigorous (V) = Individual is engaged in an activity more vigorous than an ordinary walk (e.g., increasing heart rate causing them to sweat, such as jogging, pumping legs on a swing, doing cart wheels).

Include all individuals in the Target Area except those classified as spectators (whether participating in the primary activity or not).

Spectators are defined as individuals watching, but not actively participating in an organized event. Lifeguards, coaches, referees, etc. should not be counted as spectators, but as participants in the primary activity. Spectators can be watching from the sidelines or bleachers.



[NOTE: SOPARC online app is no longer available.]

Registration is required prior to accessing the SOPARC online app. Each user will create a username and password that will be used to login into the site before each park observation. After entering the information requested, you will have the option of sharing the park data that you collect with other SOPARC app users. By checking this box, the park data you collect will be included in the publicly accessible database. If you leave the box unchecked your data will be available only to you and to project personnel. Once you submit this information you will receive an email at the email address you entered to confirm your registration. Be sure to follow the link in that email to complete the registration process.

Online Recording Procedures

  1. Login using the username and password you created during the SOPARC online registration process.
  2. Choose the state where you are located.
  3. Choose the city where you are located. If your city is not listed in the drop down menu, enter the city name in the space provided.
  4. Choose the park that you are going to observe. If your park is not listed in the drop down menu, click the "Add a new park" tab.
    • If this is a new park, enter the following information for the park you are observing.
      • Park name
        Address or nearest intersection
        Park acres
        Park staff
        Park fencing
        Park restrooms

  5. Indicate whether you are conducting the observation in real time or if you are entering information from an observation conducted previously.
    • If entering data from a previous observation, enter the date and the time when you began the observation.
  6. If this is a test observation (e.g., practice) that should not be included as real data, check the appropriate box.
  7. Choose whether you want to use previously entered Target Areas (click the "Start with previously entered areas" tab), or create your own new Target Areas (click the "Add your own areas" tab). If this park has not been observed previously, you will be required to enter new Target Areas.
    • To add new Target Areas, choose each one individually from the drop down menu and click the "Add area" tab.
    • If the appropriate Target Area is not listed, choose "Other" to add a new Target Area.
    • To remove any previously entered Target Areas, click the "remove" tab to the right of the area to be removed.
    • Click the "Add another area" to add more areas, and "Continue" when you have entered all of the Target Areas in the proper order and are ready to begin the observation.
    • The observation will begin with the first Target Area when you click the "Continue" tab.
    • If you are adding your own areas, add them in the order in which they will be observed. If you are using previously entered Target Areas, observe them in the order they are listed.
  8. Record the conditions for the first Target Area (Accessible, Usable, Supervised, Equipped, Organized, Dark, and Empty).
    • If you indicate a Target Area is "Empty," the app will skip forward to a final screen where you can indicate that you wish to begin observing the next Target Area.
  9. Enter comments as appropriate.
  10. Determine if there are Females within the Target Area. If so, click the "Yes" tab.
    • If no females are located within the Target Area, click "No" and move to action #12.
  11. For Females, decide which is the main activity in the Target Area and choose it from the Primary activity drop down menu. Refer to the codes listed in Section 4 of this protocol to determine the appropriate terminology for the activity (e.g., aerobics, baseball, climbing).
    • If the activity you are observing is not listed in the drop down menu, choose "Other" and enter the name of the activity in the space provided.
  12. Determine if there are Males within the target area. If so, click the "Yes" tab.
    • If no males are located within the Target Area, click "No" and you will automatically advance to the next Target Area.
  13. For Males, decide which is the main activity in the Target Area and choose it from the Primary activity drop down menu. Refer to the codes listed in Section 4 of this protocol to determine the appropriate terminology for the activity (e.g., aerobics, baseball, climbing).
    • If the activity you are observing is not listed in the drop down menu, choose "Other" and enter the name of the activity in the space provided.
  14. If there are too many people to count accurately in any Target Area, divide it into separate Subtarget Areas by clicking the "Yes, divide into Subareas" tab. Then follow the procedures below for each Subtarget Area separately. On the screen that follows use the drop down menu to indicate the number of Subtarget Areas you wish to create.
    • When people move to a different Subtarget Area while you are scanning, count only those who are present at the time you are scanning. In rare cases you may count people twice or miss them as they change Subtarget Areas. Make sure that the entire space in each main Target Area is included within the Subtarget Areas.
    • If you create Subtarget Areas, apply steps 15 - 19 below for observing females and males in each Subtarget Area separately.
  15. Scan the Target Area (or Subtarget Area) for Females who are not spectators. Record the number of females by age and race/ethnicity groupings.
    • Always scan from LEFT to RIGHT. Observe each person in the Target Area only once. If an observed person reappears in the scan space, do not record her/him a second time. Do not backtrack to count new people entering the area.
  16. Now scan all females (except spectators) in the Target Area and record their activity level (sedentary, walking, or vigorous).
  17. If you indicated on the Target Area conditions screen that an organized activity was taking place the spectator data entry screen will appear after leaving the female activity level screen. In this case, scan the entire Target Area again for Females who are Spectators. Scan spectators for age and race/ethnicity. As spectators they are assumed to be sedentary and watching the primary activity so you will not record an activity level or type for this group.
  18. Repeat steps 15 - 17 for Males, scanning first for participants in the Target Area, and then spectators.
  19. Move to the next Target Area. When you finish entering data for the current Target Area, and click "Continue" the SOPARC web tool will automatically advance to the screen where you will enter the conditions of the next Target Area.
    • When you complete the final Target Area you will have the option to either enter information for another park (i.e., conduct another observation) or log out.


  1. Prior to observing the park, walk the path and record the length of time, in minutes, it took to complete one full lap around it (e.g., seven minutes). The walking path will be observed for this length of time each time a scan of the area is conducted. If it takes longer than 10 minutes to walk one lap, or the path is not a loop, observe the path for 10 minutes. If appropriate for the particular setting, the duration of the observation time can be extended as long as necessary.
  2. Identify a spot near the path that can be found easily and from which observations can be conducted without obstruction, and indicate it on the park map. This location is referred to as the Coding Station and all walking path observations should be conducted from this point.
  3. The walking path data entry form will open automatically in the order in which it was entered into the list of Target Areas created prior to beginning the observation. The timer in the top right corner will begin as soon as the form opens.
  4. Count each person as s/he passes by the coding station and record his/her gender, age, race/ethnicity, and activity. Click on the circle next to the characteristic that you want to record. Press "submit and keep counting" after each person is counted to submit the data and enter new data for the next individual. When the observation is complete click the "end walking path observation now" to advance to the next Target Area.
    • You may count some people more than once (e.g., runners), and some (e.g., slow walkers) may not pass by the coding station and will not be counted.
  5. Move to the next Target Area. If this is the final Target Area, you will be given the option to either enter information for another park (or the same park), or log out.


For greatest validity, SOPARC observations should be made throughout the day, and include specified times in the morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. A sample observation schedule is included at the end of this document to help identify when you might conduct the park observations.

Morning Observation Period

The objective is to obtain an accurate measure of people in the park during the morning hours up until 10:30AM. Make sure that you are in Target Area 1 and ready to begin the observation precisely at the time indicated by the data collection schedule.

Midday Observation Period

The objective is to obtain an accurate measure of people in the park between 10:30AM and 1:30PM. Make sure that you are in Target Area 1 and ready to begin the observation precisely at the time indicated by the data collection schedule.

Afternoon Observation Period

The objective is to obtain an accurate measure of people in the park between 1:30PM and 4:30PM. Make sure that you are in Target Area 1 and ready to begin the observation precisely at the time indicated by the data collection schedule.

Evening Observation Period

The objective is to obtain an accurate measure of people in the park after 4:30PM. Make sure that you are in Target Area 1 and ready to begin the observation precisely at the time indicated by the data collection schedule.

Missing or Postponed Observation Periods

If 2 or more scheduled park scans are missed during any one observation day, they should be made up on the same day of the next available week (e.g., if a 2:00PM scan is missed on Monday, it should be made up on the next available Monday at 2:00PM). At the conclusion of the data collection week, there should be two or fewer missing park scans.


Coding Station : Identified location from which walking path scans are conducted.

Condition : Descriptive characteristics (contextual variables) of a Target Area.

Observation Period : A predetermined period of time in which scans are conducted.

Primary Activity : The activity in which a majority of individuals in a Target Area are participating during the observation.

Scan : A single observation movement from left to right across a Target or Subtarget Area. During a scan, each individual in the area is counted and coded for gender, age, race/ethnicity, and activity level.

Scan Space : The geographical area within a Target or Subtarget Area.

Subtarget Area : A subdivision of a predetermined Target Area. Subtarget Areas are created for a specific observation time and apply only to the scan space during that specific observation period. Activity level and the number of people located in a Target Area determine whether Subtarget Areas are necessary during a given observation period.

Target Area : A predetermined observation area in which park users may potentially engage in physical activity. The number of Target Areas will differ by park.

Special Default Coding Conventions

Unidentifiable Person: This default coding applies when a person is observed in the area, but a specific characteristic cannot be determined exactly (e.g., due to blankets or sleeping position).

Gender: Code as "Male."

Activity: Code as "Sleeping."

Age Group: Code as "Adult."

Race/ethnicity: Code based on the "majority" of park users in the neighborhood (i.e., if the community is primarily Latino, code as such).

Activity Level: Code as "Sedentary."

Comments: In the comments section of the data form, write a notation indicating that one or more individuals/characteristics could not be identified clearly.


[NOTE: SOPARC administrative site is no longer available.]

There is a separate website where you can view, graph, and download data entered into the SOPARC online app. During the registration process, if you indicated that you would like to make the data you enter public, it will be available at this website. Using the same username and password as for the SOPARC online app you can enter this site where you will be able to graph park data using 16 different variables and combinations thereof. By only choosing a variable (e.g., Activities, Conditions, Age) in the "View" drop down menu, you can view all data for that variable for all parks stored in the database.

  1. You can optionally narrow the data displayed in the graph to focus on a geographic region by selecting a state, city, and park in the "Limit to" drop down menus.
    • If no geographic region is specified the graph will default to display all data contained for the specified variable.
  2. You can also stipulate a specific date range of data that you would like to display. Once you have entered the desired parameters, click the "get chart" tab and the relevant chart will be displayed.
    • If no date range is specified the graph will default to display all relevant data.
    • Click the "get chart" tab after changing search parameters to display the relevant chart.
  3. To locally save the graph that is currently displayed, click the "save graph" tab. This will give you the option to save the graph locally as a PNG Image.
  4. You can download the raw park level data by clicking the "export area level data" tab. This will create a . CSV file of park data.
    • Each row in the .CSV file is a Target Area.
  5. National level data is not available for download, and you must indicate at least a state to export data. You can further narrow the search by city and park. The data that is exported is determined by your entries in the "Limit to" and "Date range" drop down menus.
  6. Click the "get chart" tab to apply any changes made to the search parameters prior to exporting data, or the changes will not be applied.

Walking path data can be downloaded separately using the "export walking path data" tab. Use the same search parameter fields as for the target level data to define the walking path data to be exported.

Sample Scoring Protocols (For Data Analyses Only)

Depending on the unit of analysis (gender, area, period, etc.), raw counts in each activity level are aggregated (sums or means) according to the variables of interest.

  1. Sum across the park observation day. Aggregating by area, calculate a mean for each activity level (females and males separately) across all periods observed to arrive at single counts for females and males at each level of activity in each area. Repeat for age and ethnicity/race groupings.
  2. Calculate energy expenditure rates. To estimate kilocalories/kg expended, the number of people counted in the sedentary, walking, and vigorous categories are multiplied by the constants .051kcal/kg/min, .096kcal/kg/min, and .144kcal/kg/min, respectively. Kilocalories/kg from each category can be summed to provide a measure of the total kilocalories/kg expended by park users in a given area. These values can be interpreted as the number of kilocalories per kg of body weight per minute expended in each area during the observed day. These energy expenditure rates are dependent on the number of people observed.
  3. MET values. We have been using:
    • Sedentary 1.5 METs
    • Walking 3.0 METs
    • Vigorous 6.0 METs


Cohen, D. A., McKenzie, T.L., Sehgal, A., Lurie, N., Golinelli, D., & Williamson, S. (2007). Contribution of public parks to physical activity. American Journal of Public Health, 97(3), 509-514.

Cohen, D. A., Sehgal, A., Williamson, S., Marsh, T., Golinelli, & McKenzie, T. L. (2009). New recreational facilities for the young and old in Los Angeles: Policy and programming implications. Journal of Public Health Policy (Supplement 1), 30, S248-S263

Cohen, D. A., Setodji, C., Evenson, K. R., Ward, P., Lapham, S., Hillier, A., & McKenzie, T. L. (2011). How much observation is enough? Refining the administration of SOPARC. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 8(8), 1117-1123.

McKenzie, T. L., Cohen, D. A., Sehgal, A., Williamson, S., & Golinelli, D. (2006). System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC): Reliability and feasibility measures. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 1, S203-217.

McKenzie, T. L., Marshall, S. J., Sallis, J. F., & Conway, T. L. (2000). Leisure-time physical activity in school environments: An observational study using SOPLAY. Preventive Medicine, 30, 70-77.

McKenzie, T. L., Sallis, & Nader, P. R. (1991). SOFIT: System for observing fitness instruction time. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 11, 195-205.

Ridgers, N. D., Stratton, G. & McKenzie, T. L. (2010). Reliability and validity of the System for Observing Children's Activity and Relationships during play (SOCARP). Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 7, 17-25

Rowe, P.J., Schuldheisz, J.M., & van der Mars, H. (1997). Measuring physical activity in physical education: Validation of the SOFIT direct observation instrument for use with first to eighth grade students. Pediatric Exercise Science, 9(2), 136-149.

Sallis, J. F., Conway, T. L., Prochaska, J. J., McKenzie, T. L., Marshall, S. & Brown, M. (2001). School environments are associated with youth physical activity. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 618-620.

Cohen D.A., Setodji, C., Evenson, K.R., Ward, P., Lapham, S., Hillier, A., & McKenzie, T.L. (2011). How much observation is enough? Refining the administration of SOPARC. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 8(8),1117-1123.

SOPARC Observer Training DVD

McKenzie, T. L. (2005, November). Systematic Observation: SOPLAY/SOPARC Introduction, Practice, and Assessment. (27 minute DVD). San Diego State University, San Diego, California. (T. McKenzie, author, producer, narrator; D. Graves, editor). Available from Active Living Research, ,3900 Fifth Avenue, Suite 310, San Diego, CA 92103 (


Sample Observation Schedule